Monday, April 15, 2024

Hersey and Blanchard - Situational Leadership Model

Paul Hersey (1931-2012) and Ken Blanchard developed the famous Situational Leadership Model, which suggests that no single leadership style is the best. Instead, effective leadership varies according to task requirements and the maturity level of the team members.

Paul Hersey was a behavioural scientist and entrepreneur who developed the Situational Leadership Model. He was a professor at Northern Illinois University for many years and later became the chairman of the Center for Leadership Studies.

Ken Blanchard, is a prominent author, leadership expert, and speaker, known for his influential work on leadership and management, co-founding The Ken Blanchard Companies, a leading global corporate training company.


In the Management of Organizational Behavior (1969) they laid out their Situational Leadership Model. This was substantiated and summarised in the popular book The One Minute Manager (1982) by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, which presents a concise, easily digestible story, illustrating effective management techniques. In Leadership and the One Minute Manager (1985), a collaboration between Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi, the principles of the One Minute Manager are applied to leadership, providing a guide to situational leadership.

Situational Leadership Model

Hersey and Blanchard's Situational Leadership Model proposes that there is no single ‘best’ style of leadership. Instead, effective leadership is task-relevant, and the most successful leaders are those who adapt their leadership style to the maturity of the individual or group they are attempting to lead or influence. The theory outlines four distinct leadership styles:

1. Directing (S1)

This style is characterized by high directive behavior and low supportive behavior. Leaders clearly define roles and tasks and supervise them closely. Decisions are made by the leader and announced, so communication is largely one-way. This style is effective in situations where the follower is inexperienced and lacks specific skills, such as the military.

2. Coaching (S2) 

This style involves high directive and high supportive behavior. The leader continues to direct and closely supervise task accomplishment but also seeks input and feedback from the follower, which can lead to more two-way communication. The leader also provides a lot of encouragement and praise to ‘sell’ their message to motivate the follower.

3. Supporting (S3)

With this style, leaders display low directive behavior and high supportive behavior. By now, the follower has developed skills but may still be hesitant to perform tasks independently. The leader facilitates and supports the followers’ efforts and shares responsibility for decision-making with them.

4. Delegating (S4)

This style is marked by low supportive and low directive behavior. The leader provides little direction or support, as the follower is now competent, capable, and willing to do the task. The leader makes fewer decisions and passes on the responsibility for making decisions to the follower.

The effectiveness of these styles varies based on the task readiness of the followers, which includes their competence and commitment levels.


Hersey and Blanchard emphasised that leaders should be trained to be flexible in their management styles. They believed in training leaders to diagnose the needs of their team members and to adopt the most effective leadership style in response to those needs.


Critiques of the Situational Leadership Model include its simplicity and lack of empirical evidence. Some scholars argue that the model is far too simplistic to account for the complexities of real-world leadership. Others question the model's assumption that follower maturity is the sole factor determining the effectiveness of a leadership style. It places a lot of responsibility on leaders to choose different styles that may be at odds with other methods of management.


The legacy of Hersey and Blanchard is entrenched in their development of the Situational Leadership Model, which has become one of the most widely taught and practiced leadership frameworks in the world. It has influenced countless leaders and managers and remains a staple of leadership training programs.


Hersey, P. and Blanchard, K.H. (1969) Management of Organizational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources. Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

Blanchard, K. H., & Johnson, S. (1982). The one minute manager. 1st Morrow ed.
Blanchard, Kenneth H., Patricia Zigarmi, Drea Zigarmi. (1985). Leadership and the one minute manager: increasing effectiveness through situational leadership (1st ed.). New York: William Morrow.

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